Norman Davies had already made himself my favourite historian with his mighty Europe: A History and majestic The Isles: A History both of which provided pictures bigger than all my historical reading to that date. How many people realise that the Polish-Lithuanian empires extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea in late medieval times. Nuf said.
This history of WWII is in my opinion, his most important book to date, because it aims to place the first real dent in the deeply flawed mythologies that virtually all particpant and victim nations have inherited as their 'History' of WWII. The fact that this is something that needs to be done now, today, that might have genuine consequences for how future Geo-politics pans out, particularly with respect to relations between Europe and Russia, makes this more than just armchair historical reading.
The book makes explicit what was beginning to become apparent to me through my own various readings around WWII. That WWII was essentially an apocalyptic battle between two of the most brutal tyrranies devised by man, and that the contribution made by the allied democracies, whilst being respectable were not the decisive, good and just contributions that they have bought their children up to believe. Their intervention merely ensured that one of the two tyrranies would emerge as the absolute victor, and would be allowed to continue its programmes of nightmare oppression for the next 50 years of the cold war, before collapsing under its own internal contradictions.
It also makes the point, for me not forcefully enough, that none of the protaginists of the war started out with clean hands. The empires of the colonial powers were all based on slaughter and maintained on the threat of slaughter through superior technology and wealth. Apologists for the British Empire like to tell us of its splendid achievements for the populations concerened and to point at those places where its departure collapsed into conflict. That is not the point. The colonies were justified on the basis of outrageous chauvinism and all populations rejoiced at the departure of their masters, whereupon the business of normal history resumed. Early 20th Century US adventurism in central America, and more particularly the Philipines makes shocking reading for those who would care to follow it up. It is a story of million plus deaths, concentration camps and deeply cynical media manipulation, to ensure the folks back home saw it all from a righteous light. The story makes Roosevelts opprobium at the British Empire, as represented by Churchill, a cynical political manipulation with an eye to future US dominance, rather than the idealistic posture on behalf of American public opinion as usually portrayed.
The real victors of WWII are the generations of the western democracies who have grown up to enjoy freedoms so unprecedented that they cannot imagine alternatives. The real losers were their couterparts left to the tender mercies of the Soviets.
Each time I read a text on WWII I swear it will be the last because I find it so sad and harrowing. But it is clear that, 60 years on, the objective account, not coloured by nationalistic mythologies, has yet to emerge. So I guess there is more painful and harrowing reading to come for many of us yet.
Anyone unconvinced that the scale of the Nazi-Soviet conflict, made all else in Europe a side show should just try Googling WWII Eastern Front. Stalin put it best - 'Britain provided the time, America the money and Russia the Blood'.